Caffeine, Your Baby, and You
Yesterday's Health section featured a refreshing article by a 6-months-pregnant woman grappling with the baffling array of dietary decisions a good mom's supposed to make in these nutrition-conscious days.
Writer Moira E. McLaughlin discussed her dismay at having to do without beer ("Ah, delicious summer brews! Sweet Octoberfests! Thick winter stouts!"), sushi, and blue cheese in the current cautious climate, so different from the one in which many of our own smoking, drinking mothers enjoyed when they were bearing us and our siblings.
The article mentioned caffeine only in passing. But the question of whether caffeine's safe for pregnant women and their babies continues to be examined by experts and pregnant women alike. Many experts concur that cutting caffeine altogether is the safest bet for protecting an unborn baby's health, as its consumption may increase the risk of miscarriage, a suspicion supported by research released in January.
In light of that research, the March of Dimes recommended that if a pregnant mother must have her daily hit, she limit herself to no more than 200 mg a day -- about 12 ounces of coffee's worth.
(Curious about how much caffeine you're consuming? Check this list from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that's been pushing the FDA to require food and beverage labels to list caffeine content.)
And now this: a study published online Monday in the British Medical Journal showed that the more coffee a pregnant woman drinks, the greater the risk of her baby's being born underweight. The association held even for those who consumed very little caffeine, less than you'd get from that single cup of coffee per day, and grew stronger with increased consumption.
In general, a certain amount of caffeine has some benefits. A study published in June in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that consuming coffee may well offer modest protection against cardiovascular disease. Caffeine intake has also been linked to reduced risk of some forms of dementia. They keep testing caffeine consumption against different diseases, such as breast cancer, but don't seem to find many links pro or con.
But the stakes are different when you're a pregnant woman; you have to weigh whatever potential benefit to your own health caffeine might offer against the risks it might pose to your baby. What's a thinking -- or an over-thinking -- mom to do?
When I was pregnant with each of my two kids, I went cold turkey on caffeine, cutting back from several cups a day to none whatsoever. It wasn't easy: I remember many a foggy-headed morning and headachy afternoon. Looking back, I wonder whether I could have safely indulged in a daily cup of joe, but at the time it simply didn't seem worth the risk, however small.
Current moms, did you consume caffeine while pregnant? To any ill effect? And moms-in-the-making, how are you sorting out all the nutrition information, including that about caffeine, that's strewn in your path?
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